Nyjer Morgan and the unwritten rules of baseball

by jbloodwell

On Sports Illustrated‘s website there’s an interesting article about Nyjer Morgan, the Washington Nationals outfielder who’s gotten in a bunch of incidents in the last week or so. The facts of the case are interesting enough in themselves (and I’ve heard that the brawl Morgan incited is pretty lively, although I am too squeamish about that stuff to have clicked through yet; after replays of football players getting injured, watching athletes brawl is one of my least favorite elements of televised sports).

But what the author of the piece, Jason Turbow, focuses in on is Morgan’s repeated flaunting of baseball’s “Code”: the unwritten rules that governs how players comport themselves. This kind of stuff is, in general, fascinating to me, and I also find it interesting the way these sorts of insights are creeping more and more into public view. There is so much more information now, so many more media outlets, it seems increasingly difficult for there to be anything left “behind the scenes.” (I am thinking generally about reality shows where things are produced, “Behind the Music”-type programming, document and information leaks, etc.)

On its surface this seems like a negative development, that the joy of these illusions is vanishing. But maybe it’s more complicated. I’m wondering, for instance, whether anyone really keeps all these unwritten rules in his or her mind. It seems to be in the nature of unwritten rules—or, calling back my 10th grade social studies class, folkways and mores—that they’re embedded somewhere deeper than mere software, that we basically don’t think of them. And in any case, it’s an outside, authorial presence that is calling our attention to the rules; it’s not Morgan or any other player who is pointing to the nebulous framework of rules, and when they do so it’s situation-specific, not some calculated effort to pull back the curtain. As an example, see Dallas Braden calling out Alex Rodriguez, earlier this season, for jogging back across the pitcher’s mound after a foul ball.

As a sidenote, Morgan started his career as a Pittsburgh Pirate. I’m curious to see whether there’ll be a local media report about the Pirates shipping him out for just this kind of insanity; going from the Pirates to the also-dirt-cheap Nationals, it doesn’t make sense to assume he went the way of Freddy Sanchez, Jason Bay, etc., etc., and got bought up for more money.

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